Secret Service (SS) agents are expected to take a bullet–if necessary–for the President. But at least 11 such agents may have put the equivalent of a bullet through their careers.
That’s how many agents have been put on on administrative leave amid allegations they brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia.
They did so while arranging security for President Barack Obama’s April 14-15 visit to the city for the Summit of the Americas.
The agents’ top secret security clearances have been revoked and they have been barred from entering Secret Service facilities worldwide.
And the scandal threatens to become a major Congressional investigation.
“Well, what we’re concerned about is that failure today can lead to blackmail five, 10, 20 years from now,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, appearing on the April 16 edition of “CBS This Morning.”
“If you look at how you get somebody to do something wrong, you do it incrementally–something small, something bigger, something bigger,” said Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In the world of espionage, using women to ensnare blackmail victims is called a “honey trap.” The CIA, KGB, Mossad, and MI5 intelligence agencies have all employed this technique.
Issa ssid that his committee “will look over the shoulder of the inspector general” as he investigates the scandal.
If Issa wants to introduce serious reforms to the Secret Service, there is an excellent place for him to start: In the President’s Secret Service, a 2009 book by the respected author Ronald Kessler.
Kessler praised the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole. But he warned that the agency was risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama.
He was particularly critical of SS management for such practices as:
- Shutting off weapon-scanning magnetometers at rallies for Presidential candidates–and even for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. During a speech Bush gave at Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005, an assailant threw a live hand grenade–which failed to explode–at him.
- Despite 9/11, Secret Service agents are still being trained to expect an attempt by a lone gunman—rather than a professional squad of terrorist assassins.
- The Service’s Counter Assault Teams (CATs) have generally been cut back from five or six agents to two, rendering them useless if a real attack occurred.
- Salaries paid to SS agents have not kept pace with reality. Veteran SS men and women are now being offered up to four times their salary for moving to the private sector, and many are leaving the agency for that reason.
- While Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, Secret Service management has not asked for equivalent increases in funding and agents.
- A third reason why many agents are leaving is the widespread knowledge that it takes “juice” or connections with top management to advance one’s career.
- SS agents are being trained with weapons that are outdated (such as the MP5, developed in the 1960s) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4–with greater range and armor-piercing capabilities).
- The Service refuses to ask for help from other agencies to meet its manpower needs. Thus, a visiting head of state at the U.N. General Assembly will generally be assigned only three agents as protection.
- The agency tells agents to grade themselves on their physical training test forms.
- The Secret Service inflates its own arrest statistics by claiming credit for arrests made by local police.
- Congressional members who visit the agency’s Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, are treated to rehearsed scenarios of how the agency would deal with attacks. If agents were allowed to perform these exercises without rehearsals, Congressional members would see they can and do make mistakes like anyone else.
Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without….changes, an assassination of Barack Obama or a future president is likely.
“If that happens, a new Warren Commission will be appointed to study the tragedy. It will find that the Secret Service was shockingly derelict in its duty to the American people and to its own elite corps of brave and dedicated agents.”
And the effects will be not only momentary but long-term. As Kessler writes:
“By definition, an assassination threatens democracy.
“If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, Andrew Johnson, his successor, would not have been able to undermine Lincoln’s efforts to reunite the nation and give more rights to blacks during the Reconstruction period.
“If John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated, Lyndon Johnson likely never would have become President. If Robert F. Kennedy had not been killed and had won the presidency, Richard Nixon might never have been elected.”